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Torah Attitude: Parashas Devarim/Shabbos Chazon, Limit sleep to study more Torah
Torah study should be our primary occupation in life, whereas earning a living should be only a means to provide for us and our families. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, together with half of the tribe of Menashe, were more concerned about their business assets than their own sons and daughters. When a person makes his Torah study his main occupation, he is well aware that Torah is not just a study for himself but something that he has to teach to his children as well. The Rambam writes that it is sufficient for a person to sleep eight hours a night. The one who strives to become a serious Torah scholar, and wants to be crowned with the crown of Torah, cannot allow himself to spend eight hours a night sleeping. A power nap before studying can be helpful. Sleeping late in the morning belongs in the same category together with drinking wine in the middle of the day, chatting with children, and going to gatherings of the ignorant. If we want to acquire Torah then we must be ready to limit our sleep in order to study the words of the Torah.
Torah study is primary occupation
Towards the end of last week's Torah Attitude, we discussed that Torah study should be our primary occupation in life, whereas earning a living should be only a means to provide for us and our families. Unfortunately, many people put all their focus into their business. In this way, it often takes over their life at the expense of their spouse and family, not to mention their involvement in any spiritual studies.
Children are primary, assets are secondary
Towards the end of the first of the two parshios we read last Shabbos, the Torah relates a subtle but significant disagreement between Moses and the two and a half tribes who had requested to settle on the east bank of the Jordan River. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, together with half of the tribe of Menashe, suggested that they would settle their families on the east bank, but all able-bodied men would join the rest of the Jewish people, and even be the vanguard in front of the other tribes until all of the other tribes had settled in the Land of Israel. They approached Moses and said (Bamidbar 32:16): "We shall build pens for the flock of our livestock, and cities for our young children." Rashi quotes the Midrash Tanchuma (paragraph 7) who points out that their choice of words shows that they were more concerned about their business assets than their own sons and daughters. For they first mentioned their livestock, and only afterwards did they mention their children. Moses responded and pointed out that this was not right. He wanted to make sure that they always would keep in mind what should be their primary concern and what comes second. That is why Moses said to them (Bamidbar 32:24): "Build for yourselves cities for your young children and pens for your flock." Do not mix up your priorities. Your children come first, then your business affairs. Many people make the same mistake as these tribes and when they come to the end of their career they look back and regret not having spent more time with their family.
Teach Torah to your children
On the other hand, when a person makes his Torah study his main occupation, he is well aware that Torah is not just a study for himself but something that he has to teach to his children as well. At every level of the education of our children, the Torah obligates us to get involved, either personally or through teachers and tutors. This is why whenever the Torah instructs us to study the words of the Torah it always includes the children in the process. In the first portion of Shema (Devarim 5:6-7) it says: "And these words that I command you today shall be upon your heart … And you shall thoroughly teach them to your children." This pattern repeats itself in the second portion of Shema (Devarim 11:18-19) where it says: "And you shall place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul … and you shall teach them to your children." In this way, the Torah ensures that the one who studies Torah will constantly be involved with his children's education and development.
Next Tuesday is Tisha B'Av, our national day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people. One of the reasons mentioned in the Talmud (Nedarim 81a) for these calamities was that the Jewish people at the time did not say the blessings that one is obligated to say prior to studying the Torah. The commentaries explain that this indicated that Torah study was not so important to them, and therefore not worth a blessing. By us making Torah study a priority, we show how important it is to us. In this way, we rectify the wrongdoings of our ancestors and bring closer the day when we will be gathered from our exile and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
We already mentioned, that the next thing the Mishnah teaches that one needs necessary to acquire Torah, is to limited one's sleep. We also quoted what it says (Joshua 1:8): "And you shall occupy yourself with it [the Torah] day and night." The Rambam (Laws of Torah 3:13) elaborates on this and writes; "Although it is an obligation to study [Torah], both day and night, a person will only learn the majority of his wisdom at night." Rabbeinu Yonah, in his commentary on Pirkei Avos (3:4) explains that the night-time is more suited for serious study, as one is not occupied with other work, and one does not get distracted by other people at that time. The Rambam continues and says, "Therefore, someone who wants to acquire the crown of Torah (see Pirkei Avos 4:18) must be careful to utilize every night, not to waste even one of them with sleeping, eating and drinking, as well as talking or similar activities, but only with Torah studies."
Eight hours sleep
This seems to contradict what the Rambam himself writes in the Laws of Character Traits (4:4). There the Rambam writes that it is sufficient for a person to sleep eight hours a night. However, these two quotations from the Rambam correspond to two statements in the Talmud (Eruvin 65a). One statement is made by Rabbi Yehudah who says, "The night was only created for the sake of sleeping." The Tosafos, in their commentary on this, explain that this refers to the short summer nights. One of the great Torah leaders of our generation, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, points out that in Israel there are approximately eights hours from nightfall to sunrise during the summer. However, another sage, Resh Lakish, says, "The moon was only created for the sake of learning." It appears that the basis for the Rambam's teaching to spend the night in serious Torah are the words of Resh Lakish. Whereas, his instruction to sleep eight hours per night, is based on the words of Rabbi Yehudah. Still, the obvious question is, how can the Rambam base his halachic decisions on two seemingly opposing views?
Sufficient to sleep eight hours
By closer analysis of the words of the Rambam in the Laws of Character Traits, we find that the Rambam dedicates the fifth chapter on how a Torah scholar should conduct himself. All the other chapters refer to the general Jewish population and how everyone should behave and deal with various situations in life. Based on the words of our sages, the Rambam establishes a higher standard for the Torah scholar than for everybody else, such as how he eats and drinks and otherwise conducts himself in his daily life. It is interesting to note that the Rambam does not mention any specific standard with respect to the sleep pattern of a Torah scholar. The reason for this seems to be that the Rambam mentions this in the Laws of Torah Study, where he clearly states that the one who wants to acquire the crown of Torah must spend every night in Torah study. This obviously does not mean that the Torah scholar should not sleep at all. Rather, this teaches us that the one who strives to become a serious Torah scholar, and wants to be crowned with the crown of Torah, cannot allow himself to spend eight hours a night sleeping. And when the Rambam teaches, in the Laws of Character Traits, that it is sufficient to sleep eight hours, this does not apply to the Torah scholar but is a ruling for the majority of people, who may spend eight hours a night to sleep. This is why the Rambam says that it is "sufficient" to sleep eight hours. This is the maximum needed for a normal, healthy person. The Rambam does not say that it is necessary to sleep a full eight hours, for many people can manage on less sleep (see also the commentary Shaarei De'ah, Yoreh De'ah 246:9).
Every person must know his own physical strength and limitations to establish a daily schedule that maximizes his ability to function. On the one hand, one should not engage in more sleeping than necessary. But on the other hand, one must be careful not to have too little sleep because that can endanger the person and the people around him, as well as affecting his ability to function. It is well known that the Chofetz Chaim used to enter the study hall of his Yeshiva every night to turn off the light in order to make sure that his students would go to sleep on time. Many people can make it through a day of work, but when it comes to study Torah they dose off, as that requires extra concentration. Such a situation can often be rectified by a power nap before studying.
Sleeping late removes a person
Some people find it difficult to get up in the morning to pray with a minyon. Very often the real problem is that they go to sleep too late at night. In Pirkei Avos (3:14), we are warned that sleeping late in the morning belongs in the same category together with drinking wine in the middle of the day, excessive chatting with children, and going to gatherings of the ignorant. These kinds of activities, says the Mishnah, removes a person from the world. People who are involved in such activities waste a lot of time, and will find it very hard to make it in this competitive world.
Fixed time for Torah study
Even a person who is not a great Torah scholar must also dedicate some time every day and every night to Torah study. As the Chofetz Chaim writes in his commentary Mishnah Berurah on Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 238:1). He quotes the halachic authorities who rule that everyone is obligated to spend some time, even during the summer nights, to Torah study. The same applies to the short winter days. My late father used to have a fixed time for Torah study during his lunch break. This was a little forerunner for the many lectures offered in many business offices every day during lunch time. The challenge of finding time, especially in the short summer nights, can be quite difficult for some people. But the Mishnah teaches that if we want to acquire Torah then we must be ready to limit our sleep in order to study the words of the Torah.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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